Sinusoidal Waveforms

In our tutorials about Electromagnetism, we saw that when an electric current flows through a conductor, a magnetic field is generated around itself.

We also saw that if this single wire conductor is moved or rotated within a stationary magnetic field, an “EMF”, (Electro-Motive Force) is induced within the conductor due to the movement of the conductor through the magnetic flux.

From this tutorial we learnt that a relationship exists between Electricity and Magnetism giving us, as Michael Faraday discovered the effect of “Electromagnetic Induction” and it is this basic principal that electrical machines and generators use to generate a Sinusoidal Waveform for our mains supply.

rotating coil

In the Electromagnetic Induction, tutorial we said that when a single wire conductor moves through a permanent magnetic field thereby cutting its lines of flux, an EMF is induced in it.

However, if the conductor moves in parallel with the magnetic field in the case of points A and B, no lines of flux are cut and no EMF is induced into the conductor, but if the conductor moves at right angles to the magnetic field as in the case of points C and D, the maximum amount of magnetic flux is cut producing the maximum amount of induced EMF.

Also, as the conductor cuts the magnetic field at different angles between points A and C, 0 and 90o the amount of induced EMF will lie somewhere between this zero and maximum value. Then the amount of emf induced within a conductor depends on the angle between the conductor and the magnetic flux as well as the strength of the magnetic field.

An AC generator uses the principal of Faraday’s electromagnetic induction to convert a mechanical energy such as rotation, into electrical energy, a Sinusoidal Waveform. A simple generator consists of a pair of permanent magnets producing a fixed magnetic field between a north and a south pole. Inside this magnetic field is a single rectangular loop of wire that can be rotated around a fixed axis allowing it to cut the magnetic flux at various angles as shown below.

Basic Single Coil AC Generator

AC generator


As the coil rotates anticlockwise around the central axis which is perpendicular to the magnetic field, the wire loop cuts the lines of magnetic force set up between the north and south poles at different angles as the loop rotates. The amount of induced EMF in the loop at any instant of time is proportional to the angle of rotation of the wire loop.

As this wire loop rotates, electrons in the wire flow in one direction around the loop. Now when the wire loop has rotated past the 180o point and moves across the magnetic lines of force in the opposite direction, the electrons in the wire loop change and flow in the opposite direction. Then the direction of the electron movement determines the polarity of the induced voltage.

So we can see that when the loop or coil physically rotates one complete revolution, or 360o, one full sinusoidal waveform is produced with one cycle of the waveform being produced for each revolution of the coil. As the coil rotates within the magnetic field, the electrical connections are made to the coil by means of carbon brushes and slip-rings which are used to transfer the electrical current induced in the coil.

The amount of EMF induced into a coil cutting the magnetic lines of force is determined by the following three factors.

  •  Speed – the speed at which the coil rotates inside the magnetic field.
  •  Strength – the strength of the magnetic field.
  •  Length – the length of the coil or conductor passing through the magnetic field.

We know that the frequency of a supply is the number of times a cycle appears in one second and that frequency is measured in Hertz. As one cycle of induced emf is produced each full revolution of the coil through a magnetic field comprising of a north and south pole as shown above, if the coil rotates at a constant speed a constant number of cycles will be produced per second giving a constant frequency. So by increasing the speed of rotation of the coil the frequency will also be increased. Therefore, frequency is proportional to the speed of rotation, ( ƒ ∝ Ν ) where Ν = r.p.m.

Also, our simple single coil generator above only has two poles, one north and one south pole, giving just one pair of poles. If we add more magnetic poles to the generator above so that it now has four poles in total, two north and two south, then for each revolution of the coil two cycles will be produced for the same rotational speed. Therefore, frequency is proportional to the number of pairs of magnetic poles, ( ƒ ∝ P ) of the generator where P = is the number of “pairs of poles”.

Then from these two facts we can say that the frequency output from an AC generator is:

generator frequency


Where: Ν is the speed of rotation in r.p.m. P is the number of “pairs of poles” and 60 converts it into seconds.

Instantaneous Voltage

The EMF induced in the coil at any instant of time depends upon the rate or speed at which the coil cuts the lines of magnetic flux between the poles and this is dependant upon the angle of rotation, Theta ( θ ) of the generating device. Because an AC waveform is constantly changing its value or amplitude, the waveform at any instant in time will have a different value from its next instant in time.

For example, the value at 1ms will be different to the value at 1.2ms and so on. These values are known generally as the Instantaneous Values, or Vi Then the instantaneous value of the waveform and also its direction will vary according to the position of the coil within the magnetic field as shown below.

Displacement of a Coil within a Magnetic Field


displacement of a coil


The instantaneous values of a sinusoidal waveform is given as the “Instantaneous value = Maximum value x sin θ ” and this is generalized by the formula.

instantaneous value

Where, Vmax is the maximum voltage induced in the coil and θ = ωt, is the rotational angle of the coil with respect to time.

If we know the maximum or peak value of the waveform, by using the formula above the instantaneous values at various points along the waveform can be calculated. By plotting these values out onto graph paper, a sinusoidal waveform shape can be constructed.

In order to keep things simple we will plot the instantaneous values for the sinusoidal waveform at every 45o of rotation giving us 8 points to plot. Again, to keep it simple we will assume a maximum voltage, VMAX value of 100V. Plotting the instantaneous values at shorter intervals, for example at every 30o (12 points) or 10o (36 points) for example would result in a more accurate sinusoidal waveform construction.

Sinusoidal Waveform Construction

Coil Angle ( θ ) 0 45 90 135 180 225 270 315 360
e = Vmax.sinθ 0 70.71 100 70.71 0 -70.71 -100 -70.71 -0

sinusoidal waveforms


The points on the sinusoidal waveform are obtained by projecting across from the various positions of rotation between 0o and 360o to the ordinate of the waveform that corresponds to the angle, θ and when the wire loop or coil rotates one complete revolution, or 360o, one full waveform is produced.

From the plot of the sinusoidal waveform we can see that when θ is equal to 0o, 180o or 360o, the generated EMF is zero as the coil cuts the minimum amount of lines of flux. But when θ is equal to 90o and 270o the generated EMF is at its maximum value as the maximum amount of flux is cut.

Therefore a sinusoidal waveform has a positive peak at 90o and a negative peak at 270o. Positions B, D, F and H generate a value of EMF corresponding to the formula e = Vmax.sinθ.

Then the waveform shape produced by our simple single loop generator is commonly referred to as a Sine Wave as it is said to be sinusoidal in its shape. This type of waveform is called a sine wave because it is based on the trigonometric sine function used in mathematics, ( x(t) = Amax.sinθ ).

When dealing with sine waves in the time domain and especially current related sine waves the unit of measurement used along the horizontal axis of the waveform can be either time, degrees or radians. In electrical engineering it is more common to use the Radian as the angular measurement of the angle along the horizontal axis rather than degrees. For example, ω = 100 rad/s, or 500 rad/s.


The Radian, (rad) is defined mathematically as a quadrant of a circle where the distance subtended on the circumference equals the radius (r) of the circle. Since the circumference of a circle is equal to 2π x radius, there must be radians around a 360o circle, so 1 radian = 360o/ = 57.3o. In electrical engineering the use of radians is very common so it is important to remember the following formula.

Definition of a Radian


definition of radians

Using radians as the unit of measurement for a sinusoidal waveform would give radians for one full cycle of 360o. Then half a sinusoidal waveform must be equal to radians or just π (pi). Then knowing that pi, π is equal to 3.142 or 22÷7, the relationship between degrees and radians for a sinusoidal waveform is given as.

Relationship between Degrees and Radians

degrees to radians

Applying these two equations to various points along the waveform gives us.


sinusoidal waveform radians


The conversion between degrees and radians for the more common equivalents used in sinusoidal analysis are given in the following table.

Relationship between Degrees and Radians

Degrees Radians Degrees Radians Degrees Radians
0o 0 135o
180o π 315o

The velocity at which the generator rotates around its central axis determines the frequency of the sinusoidal waveform. As the frequency of the waveform is given as ƒ Hz or cycles per second, the waveform has angular frequency, ω, (Greek letter omega), in radians per second. Then the angular velocity of a sinusoidal waveform is given as.

Angular Velocity of a Sinusoidal Waveform

angular velocity of a sinusoid

and in the United Kingdom, the angular velocity or frequency of the mains supply is given as:

angular frequency


in the USA as their mains supply frequency is 60Hz it is therefore: 377 rad/s

So we now know that the velocity at which the generator rotates around its central axis determines the frequency of the sinusoidal waveform and which can also be called its angular velocity, ω. But we should by now also know that the time required to complete one revolution is equal to the periodic time, (T) of the sinusoidal waveform.

As frequency is inversely proportional to its time period, ƒ = 1/T we can therefore substitute the frequency quantity in the above equation for the equivalent periodic time quantity and substituting gives us.

angular velocity


The above equation states that for a smaller periodic time of the sinusoidal waveform, the greater must be the angular velocity of the waveform. Likewise in the equation above for the frequency quantity, the higher the frequency the higher the angular velocity.

Sinusoidal Waveform Example No1

A sinusoidal waveform is defined as: Vm = 169.8 sin(377t) volts. Calculate the RMS voltage of the waveform, its frequency and the instantaneous value of the voltage, (Vi) after a time of six milliseconds (6ms).

We know from above that the general expression given for a sinusoidal waveform is:

sinusoidal expression


Then comparing this to our given expression for a sinusoidal waveform above of Vm = 169.8 sin(377t) will give us the peak voltage value of 169.8 volts for the waveform.

The waveforms RMS voltage is calculated as:

rms voltage


The angular velocity (ω) is given as 377 rad/s. Then 2πƒ = 377. So the frequency of the waveform is calculated as:


sinusoidal waveform frequency


The instantaneous voltage Vi value after a time of 6mS is given as:

instantaneous voltage


Note that the angular velocity at time t = 6mS is given in radians so we have to convert this into an equivalent angle in degrees and use this value instead to calculate the instantaneous voltage value. The angle in degrees is therefore given as:

phase angle

Sinusoidal Waveform

Then the generalised format used for analysing and calculating the various values of a Sinusoidal Waveform is as follows:

A Sinusoidal Waveform

sinusoidal waveform


In the next tutorial about Phase Difference we will look at the relationship between two sinusoidal waveforms that are of the same frequency but pass through the horizontal zero axis at different time intervals.


Join the conversation!

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  • A
    Atiqur Rahman

    Please help!
    Why we need to calculate average value where rms value gives the effective value in practical case? I mean, I actually want to know the usage of average value and rms value individually with practical example and calculations.

  • E
    Ezede Prosper Nnaemeka

    The generator coil does not move linearly from north to south, but i want to know the value of sin in that equation

  • M

    Dear Mr. Wayne

    excellent job done here, but my only confusion is a visual one in the first figure in the section, how come that the rotating coil loop cuts the max magnetic flux lines at points C and D to me it appears to be parallel to the flux lines so this should mean that the coil cuts nothing at all or cuts min flux lines and the same situation over here too at points A and B it appears to me too that the coil is perpendicular to the field lines of flux so this means that it cuts the max magnetic field lines, the confusion also holds at figure 4 of the section when you plotted the sinusoid wave at different angles

    thanks in advance

    • Wayne Storr

      As explained in the tutorial, the generator coil does not move linearly from north to south but rotates in a circle inbetween the two poles. As the lines of magnetic flux pass from the north pole to the south pole, when the conductor rotates to points C or D, it moves across them (perpendicular) cutting the lines of force by 90 degs inducing maximum voltage. When the conductor rotates to points B or A, it moves with or in parallel with the lines of force at zero degs inducing zero voltage.

  • M

    Very helpful artical for beginner s …thank you.

  • N

    Hi there

    Please advise how I calculate the maximum value of a wave if has 3ms and 60 volts?

    • M

      Wayne calculated the Vp-p which is Vp doubled
      hope this helps

    • M

      I think that it can be calculated as follows,

      Vrms = 60V, T= 3ms, Vmax=?V=Vp
      Vrms= 0.707 * Vmax
      60 = 0707 * Vmax

      the Period of the Wave (T) has nothing important to do here

      hope this helps

    • Wayne Storr

      Vp = 60 Vrms x 1.414 = 84.8 Vp its that simple, you should be able to do this yourself 🙁

  • A

    A big thank-you! This is the first time after many years that I discovered the practical application of trigonometry.

    You are the best math teacher I have known.

    Once again thank you.

  • m

    thanks a lot my teacher ♥

  • K

    Want to know about AC current

  • j

    What is the value of sin in an equation?.

    On one of the last questions for instantaneous values the sum is
    Vi= 169.8 sin ( 377x6ms), how do you get 130 v as the answer?.

    This is a fantastic website.
    Thanks Jim.

    • Wayne Storr

      When a coil rotates inside a magnetic field, as in the case of an alternator, the voltage varies sinusoidally with time producing an AC voltage. The coil will take a certain amount of time to rotate around a full 360 degrees. The value of the voltage at any instant of time as the coil rotates is called the instantaneous voltage.

      The instantaneous voltage of the coil at any point in time around the full 360 degree circle is given as:
      Vt = Vmax.sin(wt)
      Vt is the instantaneous voltage
      Vmax is the maximum voltage the coil can produce
      sin stands for the sine function
      w (omega) is the angular frequency in radians of the coil defined as 2pif
      t is time in seconds from zero radians

      then the sine angle of (377 x 0.006) = 2.262 radians
      2.262 radians = 129.59 degrees, as one radian equals 57.3 degrees
      sine(129.59) = 0.771
      169.8 x 0.771 = 130.8 volts

      • j

        Sorry to be stupid, but at the bottom of your answer you say that sine(129.59)= 0.771.
        How does it equal that?.

  • j

    What is the value of sin?. And what does the wt stand for in theta?, does it mean degree for w and time for t?, if so how do I workout time?. These are for Vi calculations.

    Thanks Jim.

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